Frequently Asked Questions

anatomy learning center

Why should I consider donating my body to science?

The unique and profound gift of a human body provides the opportunity for knowledge that is foundational for medical education and scientific research. In both instances, the need for donations is great, and the gift is valued and honored beyond measure.

How does the registration process work?

Upon request, a donation application will be mailed to you with a return envelope or downloaded by clicking the button below. Upon receipt of the completed application, the Willed Body Program will notify you regarding your acceptance as a registered donor, and a participation card will be sent to you. Please note that we are not able to accept electronic initials and signatures. Your family and health care providers should be notified of your wishes and informed of the contact procedure (details below).

Who can donate a body?

Any adult (18 years and older) can register with our program prior to death. If a person has died and is not registered with the program, the person appointed as power of attorney for healthcare or the decedent’s legal next of kin can sign the necessary forms. 

Does age, disease, weight, or amputation make the donation unacceptable?

There is no upper age limit for whole body donation, nor does amputation preclude acceptance. Medical conditions that will prevent acceptance to the Program include hepatitis B or C, HIV, Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, and active tuberculosis. Extensive trauma at the time of death or advanced decomposition may also make remains unsuitable for anatomical study. Due to the nature of our preparation process, we are unable to accept donors weighing over 300lbs.  

What about autopsies?

Information learned from autopsies is sometimes of importance to the donor’s physician or family, and in some instances an autopsy is required by law. However, the value for anatomical study of an autopsied body is limited, and we generally do not accept autopsied donors into the Program. The Program does not perform autopsies, nor does it provide diagnostic information to donor families. 

May I still be an organ and tissue donor?

Generally, yes. We address instances of organ and tissue donation on a case-by-case basis, but organ and tissue donation usually does not prevent us from accepting a donor into our program. Arrangements for organ and tissue donation must be handled independently from the Willed Body Program. 

What happens after our studies are completed?

After studies are completed, the remains are cremated and scattered at sea. Due to the undetermined length of time and how the body may be used for study, cremated remains are not returned for private disposition, and no notification of final disposition will be sent to the family. No exceptions can be made to this policy. 

What expenses are involved upon the death of the donor?

The Program will arrange and pay for the cost of transporting the body if a death occurs within Northern California. If a mortuary is involved, mortuary fees will be the responsibility of the donor family. If a death occurs outside of Northern California (but within California), the Program may arrange for the body to be accepted by another University of California body donation program closer to the place of death or may decline to accept the donation of the body. 

What if the death occurs in another state?

A medical school in the state where the death occurred may be contacted for donation.  Please see the directory of university-based programs.

Should the donor inform someone of the donation?

Yes. Discuss your plans with those close to you so that your wishes are clearly understood. It is also advisable for a donor to notify his or her physician and attorney of the arrangements.

May I donate someone else’s body, such as my spouse?

Registration of another person cannot be done while that person is living. However, after the individual’s death, the spouse or nearest living next of kin or legal representative may donate the body.

Will any payment be received for the body?

No payment may be made in connection with a body donation. This policy is in accordance with State laws, and all institutions accepting human remains must comply with it.

If a bequest is made, and the donor has a change of mind later, can the gift be rescinded?

Yes, if the request to rescind is made in writing by the donor. Mail to:
UCSF Willed Body Program
School of Medicine, AC-14
UCSF Box 0902
San Francisco, CA 94143

Will my family receive a report of medical findings or study details?

No, we do not provide reports to donor families. Certified copies of death certificates can be obtained through the Department of Birth & Death Registry in the county in which the death occurred.

How are death certificates obtained?

The Program usually completes and files with the death certificate with Vital Records Office in the county where a death occurred. Donor families are notified when certificates are completed and directed to the county Vital Records Office. For further information on your county, a simple internet search with the county name followed by “death certificate” will provide updated information. The Program cannot provide copies of death certificates to donor families. 

More information about death certificates

Once a death occurs, it is necessary to file a legal form called a death certificate as soon as possible. A certified copy of the death certificate is often necessary to settle the financial affairs of the donor.

The Willed Body Program will file a death certificate with the Vital Records Office in the county where a death occurred. A donor’s family may also hire a funeral home to provide this service. 

A Program staff member will call the donor’s family or representative within 1-2 days of the donor’s death to collect demographic information for the generation of the death certificate. It is important that the information given to our staff member is accurate to prevent errors which may require an amendment to be filed.

Once the information is gathered the death certificate will be generated and sent to the appropriate medical provider for certification of the donor’s cause and manner of death. Upon receipt of the death certificate from the provider, the Program will file the death certificate with the county office. 

The entire death certificate process can take a few weeks. A Program staff member will contact the donor’s family or representative when the certificate has been accepted by the county office. Unfortunately, the Program is unable to provide copies of the certificate to donor families. 

For further information on how to order certified copies of death certificates in your county, a simple internet search with the county name followed by “death certificate” will provide updates on the process.

What is the procedure upon the death of the donor?

The next of kin, spouse, executor, or hospital personnel should call the Willed Body Program office at (415) 476-1981 and choose option 1, or 888-649-7879.  The call is immediately answered, 24 hours a day.

Where can I learn about other body donation programs?

Where can I learn more about Social Security and VA benefits?

Social Security Administration

When the Willed Body Program generates a death certificate, the Social Security Administration is automatically notified of the donor’s death. We encourage you to contact the Social Security Administration for benefit information. 

The Social Security Administration can be reached by calling toll-free 1-800-772-1213 (1-800-325-0778 TTY) or by visiting their website.

Veterans Administration

If a donor was a qualifying military veteran, there may be applicable death benefits. For more information please contact the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs by calling toll-free 1-800-827-1000 or by visiting their website.

If you have any additional questions, please call the program at 415-476-1828